In many ways, Spanish street-art collective Boa Mistura is the Anti-Banksy. Whereas part of Banksy’s appeal is found in his mystique, the Boa Mistura crew is out in the open, creating artwork with direct support from local communities. While Banksy’s viewpoint comes from his own distinct reflections on the cities he visits, Mistura’s pieces are developed through dialogue with locals.
One vision is singular, the other is plural.
Two years ago, I spent a few days in Madrid at one of Mistura’s projects. I saw first-hand how they focus on building a connection with people living in the neighborhoods they visit. Once they’re ready to design a piece, they do so with confidence that residents living near the site will feel represented by the work. In that way, they’re similar to TED Grant-winning street artist JR, whose incredible “Women are Heroes” project also relied on community support.
To gain insight into the thought process behind Mistura’s art, we asked ringleader Ruben Martin de Lucas to tour us through some of his favorite “interventions.”
“DIE UMARMUNG” (THE HUG), GERMANY, 2009. This trip to Berlin represented the first major turning point for us as a collective. We had been painting murals in Madrid, but this was different; there was more meaning behind the image. It was art, not just design. We found a hotel owner who let us use his building, directly facing the site of the Berlin Wall, and treated the piece as our gift to the neighborhood. The two figures bear the symbols of East and West Germany and are connected in an intimate way, to the point where you can no longer tell where one body ends and the other begins.
“DREAM HAMAR,” NORWAY, 2011. Challenged to turn an unused parking lot into a public gathering space, we drew inspiration from Scandinavian textiles. After a few days in Hamar, we recognized distinct geometric patterns decorating the hats, gloves and sweaters of the city’s residents. Once we started looking, the patterns were everywhere, a sign of identity for both the city and those wearing them. By incorporating these patterns into our work, we were able to reinterpret the geometry of the parking lot and change the relationship that the city’s residents have with it.
“VELOKHAYA,” SOUTH AFRICA, 2011. This piece was created in Khayelitsha township, an ocean of wood and corrugated aluminum outside of Cape Town. Our piece was a collaboration with a cycling club called Velokhaya, which had launched with three students. By the time we visited, it had 300 and was a popular gathering place for young people. In talking with locals connected to the club, we heard the word “community” repeated over and over. So, we came up with an idea in which everyone could participate in painting the mural. It became another major shift for us; it was the first time we opened the painting process to people outside of our group. We soon realized that participatory art not only transformed the buildings, it also allowed club members to take more ownership for their space.